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Guide to Water Damage: What to Do When There's a Flood

Updated:
March 16, 2021
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Flash floods can occur within minutes of excessive rainfall, a dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by an ice jam.

Overland flooding, the most common type of water claims with homeowners insurance, typically occurs when waterways, such as rivers or streams, overflow their banks as a result of rainwater or a possible levee breach and cause flooding in surrounding areas.

It can also occur when rainfall or snowmelt exceeds the capacity of underground pipes, or the capacity of streets and drains designed to carry floodwater away from urban areas.

Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live or work, but especially if you are in low-lying areas, near water, behind a levee or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.

In this post we'll cover the following:

  • How climate change has impacted water damage insurance
  • What to do to prevent water damage claims
  • What to do when there's a flood
  • How to clean up after a flood

Climate Change’s Impact on Insurance and Water Damage

Water damage claims for homeowners, condos, and tenants have passed fire damage as the leading cause of payouts.

This can be attributed to the changing climate in Ontario, the introduction of broader insurance coverage, and the ageing water and sewer infrastructure.

For example, Ottawa has averaged over 930 mm of rainfall every year with 2017 ranked as the highest in rainfall with 1,348.8 mm. This converts to over 4 feet 5 inches!

Many homeowners are left dealing with sewer backups, overland water seepage, leaks, and other damaging water hazards.

When flooding hit Calgary and Toronto in 2013, the average homeowner spent $42,000 to repair damages with the majority of the repairs surpassing their insured limits.

READ: Water Damage and Overland Flood Insurance

Be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live or work, but especially if you are in low-lying areas, near water, behind a levee or downstream from a dam. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.

Preventing Water Damage

Water Damage Insurance

This added protection can be quite costly and if you reside in an area with regular flooding, it may not even be an option.

According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, insurance is designed to protect against random events, not predictable events.

As the insurance industry continues to manage its water damage insurance, we encourage you to consider the following preventative measures.

Weather Alerts

Understand the Government of Canada's severe weather alerts issued through the media:

  1. Special Weather Statements (not severe)
  2. Watches (moderately severe)
  3. Warnings (severe)

Back-Flow Valves

Install a back-flow valve to prevent sewer lines from backing up into your basement. Plug types of backwater valves are not recommended.

Eaves Troughs

Clean out eaves troughs and down spouts.

Sump Pumps

If you live in an area that is prone to flooding or excessive moisture, a sump pump is a necessity for protecting your home from water damage.

A sump pump typically sits in a sump pit, which is found in the lowest part of your basement.

What does a sump pump do?

When water enters your home, either a pressure sensor or a float activation device triggers the pump to turn on. Once activated, the pump proceeds to pump the water away from your home's foundation to an area where it can drain the water out through a discharge pipe.

Sump pumps not only remove water from your home but also prevent moisture levels from rising within your home, which can also cause damage over time.

How are sump pumps powered?

Sump pumps are powered by electricity with no extra wiring needed. Having a secondary battery-operated sump pump or backup power source is a great idea if you live in an area that experiences a lot of heavy storms.

In the event that your primary pump stops working due to loss of power from severe weather, your secondary sump pump can take over to keep you and your belongings safe.

Flood Kit

Prepare a flood kit with the following items:

  • Cash
  • Water
  • Food for 3-7 days
  • Radio
  • Blankets, pillows, etc.
  • Clothing
  • First Aid kit
  • Special items (e.g., for babies, elderly)
  • Toiletries
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Keys
  • Toys, books, games
  • Pet care items

Also, consider placing these documents in a water proof container:

  • Insurance documents
  • Medical records
  • Bank account numbers
  • Social Insurance cards
  • Deeds or mortgage
  • Birth and marriage certificates
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Recent tax returns
  • Wills

Insurance

Have your insurance documents readily available. Ask us how to get your insurance documents sent to you electronically or log in to Scrivens Online.

How Can I Protect My Home Against Water Damage and Save Money?

Utilities

Turn off all gas, electricity, and water supplies.

Document

Be prepared to take photos of all damages and let your insurance broker know of any damage immediately. We recommend you enter your broker's contact information into your phone for easy access: phone: 613-236-9101, after-hour claims: 1-800-267-3542

Water damage is expected to get worse as the climate changes. The spring thaw of 2017 saw insurance payouts reaching $223 million in the Ottawa area.

Before we reach another thaw this Spring, review your water damage insurance coverage with your insurance broker.

What to Do During a Flood

If a flood is likely in your area, you should:

  • Listen to the radio or television for information.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Don't wait for instructions to move.
  • Be aware of stream, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.

If you must prepare to evacuate, you should do the following:

  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.

If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:

  • Don't walk through moving water. 15 centimetres (six inches) of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Don't drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly.
  • Don't camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.

What to Do After a Flood

Your home has been flooded. Although floodwaters may be down in some areas, many dangers still exist.

Here are some things to remember in the days ahead:

  • Use local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or a relief organization.
  • Stay off the roads and out of the way as emergency workers assist people in flooded areas.
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. Listen for local warnings and information. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Take another route if you come upon a barricade or flooded road. Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection.
  • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 15 centimetres (six inches) deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it's also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.

Staying Healthy After A Flood At Home

A flood can cause physical hazards and emotional stress. You need to look after yourself and your family as you focus on cleanup and repair.

  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewer systems are serious health hazards.
  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Keep a manageable schedule. Make a list and do jobs one at a time.
  • Clean your home to prevent any mold build-up
  • Contact your insurance broker to discuss claims.

In addition to insuring your home, Scrivens is committed to helping you and your loved ones stay safe when disaster strikes. Download our Home Protection Guide which includes methods for reducing the risk of your home and belongings being lost to a flood.

Home Protection Guide: Floods [Free Download] (opens in a new tab)